By just about everyone’s standards, the Dallas Cowboys have had an extremely productive off season. They’ve avoided any arrests or major “pants/shopping mall” incidents and have quietly, methodically gone about the task of improving their football team. They applied the franchise tag to Anthony Spencer giving him at least one more year to prove his worth. They made a splash in free agency signing Brandon Carr from the Kansas City Chiefs. They pulled off a huge trade with St. Louis to move up to the #6 pick and grab Morris Claiborne, easily the highest rated cornerback in the draft. In one offseason (at least on paper so far), they’ve improved their most glaring weakness – the secondary – turning it into a potential strength. They upgraded their roster at linebacker and at fullback. They’ve continued to revamp their offensive line solidifying both tackles and hoping to find a better mix of players in the interior line. All in all, it feels like this team will be much improved in 2012 and should compete for a title. So, what is this uneasy feeling I keep having underneath all the positives? I thought long and hard about it and it finally hit me – Jason Garrett!!
Don’t get me wrong – I love Jason Garrett. I thought he was a good backup quarterback who came in and played like a champion when we needed him most. I was excited when he was hired to be Wade Phillips’ “co-head coach” and even happier when he took over the solo head coaching job. (Truth be told, I would have been happy with ANYONE after Wade Phillips, who I nicknamed “Coach Dopey”). I though Garrett was a wise choice in light of the other options at the time. He’s smart – he went to Ivy League Princeton – but he’s also football smart having actually played quarterback in the NFL. There is a lot to like about Jason Garrett as your head coach.
So, what is it that makes me so uneasy? I think it is his ultra-calm demeanor. Garrett is almost “stepford like” in most situations robotically responding no matter the situation with things like “we just didn’t do the things we needed to do to win the game” after the heartbreaking loss to the Lions last year or his favorite, “we just need to be great TODAY”. The cold, clear logic of Mr. Spock may be helpful in a tense situation but where would the U.S.S. Enterprise have been without the bravado and passion of Captain Kirk?
Most Cowboys fans I know are extremely passionate about their team. They approach each and every game with excitement and nervous anticipation counting down the minutes until the analysts finally shut up and the game begins. They scream and yell until they’re hoarse whether at the game live or at the TV. A Cowboys win means a good week ahead and a loss is like the onset of a crushing depression – food loses its taste, work loses its meaning (especially facing the obnoxious, Cowboy-hating co-workers the next day), and you avoid listening to any sports shows that week to avoid opening the wound over and over again. Last season was about as bad as it gets for Cowboys fans. How many times did we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory or turn elation into agony? It’s the freshest in memory of course, but I honestly can’t recall a tougher season emotionally in all my years being a Cowboys fan.
What you don’t want to hear at that point in time is a monotone, calm reciation of the coaches favorite platitudes. You would like to see him get as upset as you are at that moment – throw a clipboard, tear into some guys that deserve it, or call out his own mistakes like he simply refused to do after the “icing” debacle. Show us that defeat hurt you personally as much as it does your fans! It won’t change the score or ease the heartache but it would show us you “get” how your fans feel and that you are pouring your entire heart and soul into winning. Jason Garrett would have made a fantastic accountant and he may yet be a great coach – but he has yet to prove it with only 13 wins in 2 seasons (5 wins in 2010 after Phillips was fired and 8 wins last year). He just does not come across to me as a guy that wants it bad enough. Would Garrett be willing to burn his ships like that famous general who ensured his soldiers commitment by burning their only avenue of retreat to “fight another day”?
Some would say that you don’t have to be an emotional guy to win in the NFL. Look at Tom Landry – always stoic, calm, and collected with his signature fedora perched perfectly on his head. But, sadly, that was a different era. I’m not convinced Landry would be able to win as consistently as he did with today’s era of free agency and self-promoting players. Look at the dramatic change the fiery Jim Harbaugh was able to bring about in his first season with the 49ers with largely the same crew that imploded under Mike Singletary. You won’t ever see Jason Garret slapping another coach on the back so hard that the other coach chases him down to confront him – but maybe he should. The last great Cowboys teams under Jimmy Johnson (and Jimmy’s team under Barry Switzer) had swagger. So far, Garrett’s teams can’t even spell it. Of late, this team too often reflects the methodical approach and personality of their coach – going through the motions and shrugging it off when they lose. The biggest games are approached with a “gosh, Aunt Bee, we’d sure like to win and we’re working really hard” squeaky-clean attitude. We need Coach Braveheart, not Opie Taylor.
Being a dyed-in-the-wool Cowboys fan all my life, it’s not just a game to me. I live and die with the Cowboys. It would make me feel a lot better if I knew that the Cowboys felt the same way – starting with their head coach. Go Cowboys!